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Santa Rosa, Petaluma appear to be on different timelines with power agency


Sonoma County’s two largest cities appeared headed down divergent energy paths Tuesday, with Santa Rosa vowing to move swiftly toward a decision on whether to join the Sonoma Clean Power Authority the day after Petaluma delayed a decision until at least September.

Santa Rosa City Council members expressed both strong support and deep reservations about the proposal, but all agreed to try hard to make up their minds one way or another by the impending June 30 deadline or shortly thereafter.

powerplant“I love the concept. I want it to work, but I’ve got to make sure it’s right for our city, and I’m not there yet,” Councilman Jake Ours said.

The council decided to convene its three-member subcommittee in coming weeks to get answers to myriad questions it has about the plan’s governance, rates, green energy mix, and impact on greenhouse gas emissions. It proposed another full public hearing on the issue in late June.

Mayor Scott Bartley said the city would “move as fast as we can move,” but warned that pressure on it to act quickly was like “pushing on string, and that doesn’t work.”

The call for quick action follows a unanimous move Monday by the Petaluma City Council to further study the proposal, effectively putting off any decision until after the county’s June 30 deadline and possibly until next year. The county’s second-largest city joins Cloverdale, its smallest, which also decided to sit on the sidelines for now.

“It may be that there’s a better path for Petaluma,” Mayor David Glass said Tuesday.

So far, Windsor is the only city to formally join the power agency. Rohnert Park and Sebastopol could join in a second round of hearings next month. Cotati’s first presentation in the current series is today, while Sonoma’s council takes up the issue June 3.

The creation of a public power agency is intended to supplant PG&E as the county’s primary source of electricity and offer a greener energy portfolio, with sources including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric projects.

The agency intends to start with power that is 33 percent from renewable sources, a greater proportion than PG&E’s 20 percent.

County officials estimate that in 2014, Sonoma Clean Power rates for residential customers would be 1.8 percent lower to 1 percent higher than PG&E’s, and for commercial customers 3 percent lower to 0.5 percent higher.

It was difficult to read the leanings of many Santa Rosa council members Tuesday. All said they wanted the agency to work, but they also voiced a litany of questions they wanted answered before they could fully support it.

But at least two council members said that if Santa Rosa didn’t participate, it wouldn’t have a seat at the table of the Joint Powers Authority and therefore couldn’t influence the policies that might affect it if it joined later.

“A lot of these decisions have been made without us, and rather than letting more of them be made without us, I’d like to see us hop on that train before it goes by us too much further,” Erin Carlstrom said to a round of applause from a chamber packed mostly with supporters.

First District Supervisor Shirlee Zane kicked off the afternoon session with an impassioned plea for political courage. She invoked Monday’s horrific tornado in Oklahoma as yet another sign that climate change is happening and local jurisdictions need to take bold action before it’s too late.

Anticipating the barrage of highly detailed questions that followed, Zane urged council members to remain focused on the bigger picture.

“We need to stop quibbling over 1 or 3 percent rates and remember that this earth will be inherited by our children,” Zane said. “This is about leadership.”

She appealed directly to Carlstrom, who is several months pregnant, as an example of someone who should act with the future in mind.

“It’s always nice to call out the pregnant lady, because you do reflect our children,” Zane said.

But Kathy Millison outlined the complexity of the decision facing the council. She noted that it needs to make a decision not only on behalf of the city’s residents, but on behalf of the city budget. In 2012, the city government itself used 40 million kilowatts of energy, costing taxpayers and ratepayers $5.6 million, Millison said. With 791 separate PG&E meters paying 20 different rates, figuring out the budget implications for the city is daunting, she said.

Several speakers pointed out that Sonoma County’s 70 percent opposition to Proposition 16 in 2010 was a virtual mandate from voters to support the new power authority. Resident Ben Zolno, who worked against the PG&E-backed proposition to require a two-thirds public vote to join so-called Community Choice Aggregation programs, called Santa Rosa’s support crucial.

“Without Santa Rosa as part of this, Sonoma Clean Power is either really weak or it’s dead,” Zolno said.

He stressed that the city’s participation would give the fledgling agency significantly more leverage in negotiating contracts with potential power suppliers. Santa Rosa accounts for nearly 35 percent of PG&E-supplied power in Sonoma County.

One of the few critics of the plan was Novato resident Jim Phelps, an engineer who said he opted out of Marin County’s power authority and questions its legitimacy.

Phelps singled out the agency’s reliance on renewable energy certificates to achieve its 33 percent green power goal. The agency says roughly half of its renewable supply will come from energy credits that some critics say amount to greenwashing, allowing a user to claim renewable sources while actually getting conventional power from the grid.

Phelps held up a plastic cup full of dirty water and likened it to brown power. Then took a white paper receipt, which he said was, in essence, all a renewable energy credit is. He said the claim that such certificates ensure the production of green energy was “patently false.” He then wrapped the receipt around the cup and said “Voila! Instant green energy that your constituents will buy, and they won’t know it.”

He then held the cup up to the council and said: “This is clean water. Who’d like a drink?”

Following the hearing, Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the county Water Agency and the lead staff member on the proposal, said he was pleased with the support the council members showed and said their numerous questions were easily answerable.

The detail of the questions showed they are on board with the concept, and are now “in the weeds” working out the details, which Stillman said was promising.

Petaluma appears to be much more wary of the county plan.

The city’s discussion kicked off Monday with a presentation by Supervisor David Rabbitt, the south county representative and a former Petaluma councilman. Rabbitt, the only county board member to vote against the power plan launch this year, said he had wanted more time to study and develop the plan. Several Petaluma council members echoed him with their own comments.

“There’s no urgency because the county already has the go-ahead to meet their capacity in the first year,” said Glass, the mayor.

Petaluma council members voiced concern especially about the sway that the county and Santa Rosa — the two biggest power users — would hold on the agency’s governing entity, the Sonoma Clean Power Authority.

Councilwoman Teresa Barrett questioned whether the city might partner instead with Marin County’s public power program, launched three years ago. The program recently expanded to serve customers in the Contra Costa County city of Richmond.

That possibility and other questions will be the focus of a staff report that is set to take at least three months to compete. Glass was adamant in an interview Tuesday that a closer look was better for Petaluma.

“We’re going to continue to investigate our options and explore possibilities,” he said, brushing aside questions about possible political blowback from the county and the powerful coalition of business and environmental interests pushing the proposal.

“That’s not my worry,” he said. “My worry is to get the very best deal for the people of Petaluma, period.”

13 Responses to “Santa Rosa, Petaluma appear to be on different timelines with power agency”

  1. Phil Maher says:

    Initially forced participation is not an accurate depiction of actual and eventual demand. Regardless of what largely inept city council members think is a good idea, the numbers will all boil down to who opts in vs who opts out. Whether or not SCP will work out or not remains to be seen, but without facts and numbers, we have no way of knowing. Somehow, I can’t get beyond the notion that rosy promises not followed by reality have been the hallmarks of snake-oil salesmen making their “pitches” since time immemorial. Something sure does stink here.

  2. Emerson Burkett says:

    Well, Steveguy really nails this whole scam, with his 5/26 comments. Only thing I can add is to repeat my mantra “Fix the damn roads”. This “Green Power” is a huge waste of Taxpayer money and green in-name-only. Another huge waste is fluoridation, though, off topic.

  3. Steveguy says:

    @ Lets be Reasonable, et al – Yes 100% does come from the geysers. Just like the power generated near to Shasta Dam get 100% of theirs from it. Same as pretty much everywhere. When a sector goes down, or ‘peak demand’ happens then we adjust ‘the grid’ as needed. Only on the huge grid wires that you see do any power transfers take place. Even near to coal plants they get 100%. Heck, my mother and other family in Southern Arizona get theirs from the big nuke plant, cheap too ! What you ask us to do is feel guilty about having local ‘green power’ then making up for the so called sins of others. If you count hydro, PG&E is far greener than Sonoma Green Power can ever advertise as GREEN !

    Look at the players ! And they won’t show or tell anything about their real plans or designs. Do you expect a lame Cotati City Councilperson to be aware of the complex trading and outright thievery in those trades? The ” Board” will be easy targets for these extra dollars for many. Maybe they will appoint Valerie Brown as Commissar of the scam.
    You said solar too- Let me respond briefly- Expensive, a good thing on a personal and business level only with subsidies, as do have clean maintain the system. For the Sonoma County Water Agency and future Sonoma Greed Power, the $100 Million Solar project on 50 acres near the airport does NOT pencil out from even a cursory glance, just like their fuel cell out there.

    1.8% more ? Yes, the first years or so, then Water Agency pricing takes effect- look at your water bill to predict the future, as this scam is presented as a ” Green Solution” without anything but solar as solution.

    If it was true, we would pee more and add to The Geysers Complex in cahoots with Calpine, I could trust Calpine for cheap Geysers power like Healdsburg has.

    Maybe you need to learn up on the ineptitude of the do gooders.

    Learn up maybe ? The more I learn about it, the more I would be VERY aware for ineptitude, fraud, favors and just plain graft and corruption. But it makes ya feel good, so you are all for it.

    Who are are ‘the consultants’ ? Can the PD find out ? I have tried.

  4. Lets be Reasonable says:

    David, clean and dirty electrons may look the same, but when you put solar back in the grid (or even when you use it yourself), it occurs at peak demand, and that means that PG&E does not need to fire up one of their auxiliary plants (which tend to be the most polluting) or import coal generated power from out of state. Sure, PG&E continues to maintain the grid, but that is completely separate from energy production. The more green energy that is produced, the less dirty energy is needed.

  5. David says:

    So please explain just how 100% of the power the County will sell is going to be directed to it’s customers and not come from the entire grid? Shuffling paper doesn’t redirect the power. There is no way to keep the “clean” and the “dirty” power separate once it goes into the grid.

    The County may someday build some kind of power generator but they will NEVER own the power poles and the wires that deliver the electricity to your home. That is the difference between the County plan and the Healdsburg model. PG&E will still own and maintain the entire distribution system. Why is that so hard to understand?

    The solar on my house sometimes produces more than I use. That unused “clean” power goes back into the grid where it gets all “mixed up” with the “dirty” power. “Clean” electrons and “dirty” electrons look and act exactly the same way.

  6. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Steveguy – “100% of our power comes from the Geysers. Yes, 100%….”

    Sorry, but no. The geysers may produce enough to power our area, but it does not come straight to us, but rather it goes into the grid and accounts for a portion of PG&E’s renewable percentage.

    If we created our own energy consortium, we could actually do something to increase the total renewable energy generation, not just shift it from one person to another.

  7. Paul says:

    David, please, don’t confuse the general public. The Supes know what they’re doing; just look at our roads and the county pensions. All is well. Please stop asking these embarrassing questions. The man behind the curtain assures you that everything is just fine.
    But seriously, as to your question…you nailed it. Same power. It’s a scam. Everybody that gets it, thumbs up, please. At this stage, I assume that anyone still in favor if this boondoggle is either on board for a job or has some $$ tie to the wishing well full of money.

  8. Bruce Keating says:

    Hey Elephant,
    Did you ever think that maybe Albertson and Miller stayed quiet because their fellow council members had already covered their concerns? I admire politicians who don’t waste time repeating what other politicians say.

  9. David says:

    So I opt out and my neighbor doesn’t. How do they know which house gets the “clean” power and which gets the “dirty” power? Some people sure are gullible!

  10. James Bennett says:

    This is all ICLEI directed.

    Lots of baggage.

    Language that is a segway into Cap ‘n Trade (Agenda 21).

    Why would they need a provision for eminent domain?
    Answer: Because they’ll ake private property for solar arrays and wind mills. More land grab (Agenda 21).

    No talk of geo-thermal, no talk of the miriad of bio-fuel at our disposal. No talk of clean burning natural gas.

    Their mantra is choice. The Smart Grid defidently not about choice.

    Oppression is never about choice.

    UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development:
    A complete Plan for complete control.

  11. Elephant says:

    Well Informed – I believe that Carillo has never cared one bit about the people in general. And Zane seems to sway in the breeze, leaning whichever way the wind among her fellow Stupidvisors blows strongest. I sincerely hope that their constituents are finally seeing that and get rid of them the next time around.

    The Petaluma City Council meeting on Sonoma Clean Power was quite interesting. Barrett and Glass did most of the talking and asked some real questions that didn’t get answered very well if at all. Most of them had to do with the (gulp) $10 million start up loan and what would happen if SCP collapses. Albertson and Miller stayed silent. No surprise there as they don’t appear to be able to think for themselves. Thankfully there was no way any of the developer puppet councilmembers could argue with the money questions.

    Hardly any of the public’s questions actually had to do with the nuts and bolts of SCP which tells me that most are completely ignorant of it. That is exactly what the Stupidvisors want to maintain and that is why we have so many problems in Sonoma County.

    What was interesting is that there was basically zero discussion about the four companies that stand to become the power provider for SCP and where they plan to get the electricity that they would sell to them. The Bohemian has a very good article on these four companies. Of course that information is nowhere to be found in the PD. And I for one want to know what PG&E thinks about all of this.

    Thankfully the Petaluma City Council didn’t buy this snake oil. All of this hoopla over a potential 1.8% savings. Whoop-de-stinking-do.

  12. Steveguy says:

    Let us do recent history Of the Water Agency :

    They installed a ‘fuel cell’ down the street from me that costs them $189,000 more a year to operate than if they did nothing. The payoff is is in 15-20 years from now, and minimal at best.

    They plan a $100 Million solar project, when 100% of our power comes from the Geysers. Yes, 100%….

    At what cost are the sheep willing to be fleeced ?

    Where is the REAL reporting ? You know, the supposed 4th Estate ?

    I have FACTS that show this to be a money scam, not some green feel good warm and fuzzy pay more to save the planet from humanity thing. What the what ?

    I am all for public power when it is in OUR best interest, not these proven inept politicians catering to the banksters and suspect energy providers.

    Goldman Sachs is a beneficiary, follow the money !

    What a scam

    Steve Mosher

  13. Well Informed says:

    Shirley Zane and Efrin Corillo have completely underestimated the citizens they represent. They have acted foolishly and in their self interests. I hope they will learn from this disaster to check facts and check with the very people you represent.

    What an embarrassment.